Guru: Blow off taxes

The New York Post/January 31, 2011

The leader of an Albany "cult" financed by the Bronfman booze fortune urged followers to dodge taxes, used charity funds to score himself a pricey grand piano and dispatched top advisors to break into the homes and "sweep" the bank accounts of his detractors, according to a new court filing.

Keith Raniere, who heads NXIVM - a self-help group backed by the multi-million dollar trust funds of Seagram's liquor heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman -- also used a trusted circle of female followers to convince other women to have "secret" sexual relationships with Raniere, sometimes in return for doing business with NXIVM, the document claims.

The filing, in Albany federal court, provides a rare look into the alleged inner workings of the controversial NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um.) The group touts its "ethical" teachings but has been blasted as a "cult" by former members and mental health experts.

Included in the 200-plus page document is a purported breakdown of NXIVM's highly-guarded "business model" - described as a multi-layered plan in which members get commission for recruiting others, and the money flows up the chain to those at the top of the "corporation."

Before starting NXIVM, Raniere ran a multi-level marketing firm that was investigated in 23 states. In 1993, New York AG Robert Abrams ordered the firm, Consumers Buyline, shut down, calling it an "illegal pyramid scheme."

The information is part of a deposition given by Barbara Bouchey, who had been Raniere's lover and the Bronfman sisters' financial planner before she defected NXIVM in 2009.

Oddly, it was NXIVM's own lawyers who entered Bouchey's previously private testimony into the public court record. It was included in a filing to compel Bouchey to be deposed in a separate case NXIVM has against cult watchdog Rick Ross and others.

In her deposition, Bouchey claims:

    • Raniere "felt the government was watching him [and] he needed to be careful" so he took "precautions to not have his name on things, not have a driver's license." Raniere encouraged "a number of people [to] get off the grid, meaning not have a tax ID number, not to file their tax returns."

    • Raniere got a $40,000 piano "for his use" paid for from $250,000 in charity funds earmarked for the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation, a non-profit run by Clare and Sara Bronfman. The sisters also arranged to have the charity named a beneficiary of their trust funds and gave Raniere a mock $20 million check to show their comittment.

    • Raniere was"intimately involved" with "at least seven" of his female followers while Bouchey was in the organization. Recruited by high-ranking devotees -- including NXIVM president Nancy Salzman--Bouchey was told she had to have a sexual relationship with Raniere because she was "chosen" to bear his child. Another woman who'd been mulling a business deal with Raniere, was told "that she couldn't stay in a business relationship with Keith unless she was actually intimately involved with him."

    • NXIVM legal liaison Kristin Keeffe "bragged" that she'd helped "dig up dirt" on detractor Rick Ross by hiring people "to help them get information that might not be readily available through normal legitimate means." NXIVM paid $10,000 for "bank sweeps" on Ross's accounts, got phone and credit card records and "even got his garbage."

    • Keeffe discussed with Bouchey a Raniere-approved break-in to the home of his former girlfriend and business partner, Toni Natalie. The group wanted to recover letters, documents and pictures that "might be incriminating and not look good for Keith."

  • Raniere considered himself a "higher power" and wanted to start "his own country," possibly by courting Native Americans. "For many years, we were collecting the names of people that had Indian in their heritage [with the idea] that if we had enough ... we could then buy enough land [that] could be considered its own sovereignty." NXIVM had a similar plan for Australia.

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